In many areas of the USA, electronic tolling, or e-tolling, is becoming mandatory on toll roads with cash booths being either removed or converted to e-tolls.
What does this mean for car hire? Alamo and National have signed up to ‘Toll-by-Plate’. This is quite a simple system, in essence, you travel through the e-toll lane which is often called a Sun Pass (Florida) FasTrak (California) or EZ Pass lane, and if you don’t have a transponder in your car the toll booth will take a photo of your number plate, this is then matched up with the rental car company and billed to your card.
Avis, Budget, Dollar and Thrifty usually carry an e-toll transponder device on or near the wind-shield that communicates directly with the e-toll and bills straight to your card. This is fine if you are happy to use the system – but – if you don’t want to use the system and want to pay all your tolls by cash (or use your own portable transponder) then you must ensure that you can turn off the rental company’s transponder. Budget has installed transponder covers in its rental cars which make turning the transponder off really easy. They are attached to the wind-shield with hook and loop, so can be removed and stored in the glove compartment for a ‘belt and braces’ approach.
Tolls can take a few days to reach your account so you may find that you have been billed after you actually dropped off the car, but that is normal. There is an administration charge for this facility and this does vary according to which supplier you have chosen. These are the current rates in Florida, other states may vary:
- Alamo/National – $19.75 per rental month,or $3.95 per rental day, plus your tolls.
- Budget/Avis – $16.75 per rental month, or $3.95 per rental day, plus your tolls.
- Dollar/Thrifty (Florida) – $52.49 per rental week or $10.95 per rental day, includes your tolls.
- Dollar/Thrifty (Denver E470) – $62.49 per rental week or $12.49 per rental day, includes your tolls.
- Dollar/Thrifty (Golden Gate Bridge) – $59.95 per rental week or $11.99 per rental day, includes your tolls.
Please remember that local taxes and fees apply to all transactions.
E-tolling allows you to drive to your destination in the easiest way, without constantly slowing down to throw more change in the basket! However, it is worth noting that not all e-toll systems are compatible, for instance the SunPass system in Florida is only compatible with North Carolina’s Quick Pass system currently. Although further ‘interoperability’ with other states is being worked upon, as yet the systems are not compatible. If you are considering a road-trip through many states but want to be able to use toll roads, then you would be better to select an Alamo or National car which makes use of the ‘Toll-by-Plate’ technology.
You don’t have to use E-tolling in areas where it it is not yet mandatory – you can still pay by cash. But, if you have been through an E-toll once and activated the facility to your rental, then you will still have to pay the facility charge plus that toll even if you pay by cash for all the others.
If you use cash to pay for tolls, always obtain a receipt and keep it in case of any disputes later!
List of Current US Markets with Cashless Toll Highways (not exhaustive!):
Dallas, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County.
To read about the SunPass system in Florida please see this page.
To read specific instructions for rental cars using the Golden Gate Bridge please see this page.
To read about FasTrak in California please see this page.
Toronto in Canada is also a Cashless Toll Highway area.
Regular travellers may want to consider obtaining a transponder of their own. There are portable units available from service plazas on toll roads – or for instance, Publix in Florida sells portable Sun Pass transponders for $25. Once purchased, you set up an online account, linking the account to a credit card for top-ups and then you can register your rental car to the account for the exact times and dates that you have the car. This way, if any toll goes astray (and gets billed by the rental company) you can show proof that the car was registered to your account at the time. If you like to tour around and prefer to pay to use the relatively quieter toll roads, then this may well be the option to consider.
A tip is to continue to pay cash for tolls on the journey from the airport to your accommodation to make sure you don’t incur any charges before you have a chance to pair your rental car to your Transponder account.
There are often toll exit booths which are dual purpose cash/e-toll. If you have a transponder in the car this may automatically activate, even if you pay by cash and we have received a few reports from clients who have been caught out this way. Please remember, if you are in any doubt, ask for a car with a transponder that can be turned off.